Transcript of Event: “What is the Architect’s Role in the ‘Housing Crisis’?”

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Below is a full transcript of the event held on the 28th June at Cressingham Gardens between invited speakers: architects who work in regeneration, academics who specialise in gentrification, housing activists,  and council estate residents; and members of the public. All attendees were invited to take part in an open discussion about the role of the architect in the housing crisis. We wanted to ask what agency the architect has, and discuss its limits and potential. Our aim was to facilitate an active discussion between all of the ‘experts’ in, and those directly affected by, estate ‘regeneration’.

Please click here to download a copy of the full transcript.

Who does RIBA represent?

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“2.1 The objects of the Royal Institute are the advancement of Architecture and the promotion of the acquirement of the knowledge of the Arts and Sciences connected therewith” –  II Objects and Powers, RIBA Charter and Byelaws, 1971.

The Royal Institute of British Architects is not a union, nor an ethical regulator. It represents the concerns of its wealthiest members, whilst avoiding directly addressing the real issues that face our cities today. In the public document ‘Housing Matters: #20ways to tackle the housing crisis’, RIBA recommends that local government should act as private developer, through Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs).  More and more councils are trying to pass off high-risk SPVs as a easy solution to their ‘housing crises’. To take one example, ‘Homes for Lambeth‘ is the entity that is, as only one of its major regeneration projects, driving the demolition of 6 major estates – Central Hill (PRP Architects), Cressingham Gardens, Fenwick (Karakusevic Carson Architects), Knight’s Walk (Mae Architects), South Lambeth (PTE Architects) and Westbury (Metropolitan Workshop with Maccreanor Lavington Architects) – under the tagline of “More and Better Homes”.

RIBA doesn’t protect Workers’ Rights

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Above: The RIBA stipulate in their Chartered Practice Criteria that practices must pay the appropriate Living Wage. If you work full-time (40 hours a week) in London you are therefore entitled to a minimum £20,280 per annum, and must be paid or compensated by time in lieu for any overtime worked.

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The information provided by RIBA to employees and employers about pay and regulation of hours is scattered between documents and unclear.

On the RIBA Appointments Salary guide 2017 the recommended salary for a Part-I architectural assistant is between £18,000 – £22,000 . This range falls below the London Living Wage if you work 40 hours a week. A typical contract will stipulate a 37.5 – 40 hour week, but most employers and RIBA’s pay-scale do not recognise the industry’s reliance on regular unpaid overtime. The Living Wage Foundation advises that in order to qualify as a Living Wage Employer, as RIBA state all practices must be to be Chartered, then overtime must be properly reimbursed.

RIBA: Podium for Destruction

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The RIBA consistently platform the practices that are carrying out the estate destruction which leads so many to be displaced.

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The RIBA repeatably ignore the context to the designs that they so enthusiastically  reward. Their latest exhibition, Social Housing: Definitions and Exemplars is representative of RIBA’s default stance – to produce superficial gestures towards social awareness and engagement, without serious engagement with current issues that affect both people who work in architecture and people who are impacted by architectural work.

Historic Complaints Still Relevant

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The Architects Revolutionary Council were a group of students fighting the same RIBA in the 1970s. What has changed in 40 years? Sadly many of the criticisms made by ARC sadly are still relevant today.

We want to form a union of architectural workers that can work together to fight for both better working conditions and a better architectural industry.

 

 

DEMANDS

We have three immediate concrete demands:

  • Regulation of working hours, pay and treatment: paid overtime, London Living Wage paid to anyone working in an architectural office from the cleaner to the director, distribute tasks more fairly, do not contribute to work-horse culture
  • No discrimination based on class, gender, ability or race: meaningful representation in and across positions of power, no tokenism, no wage-gap based on nationality, residency-status or gender, no university-snobbery. There must be no discrimination for both employees and the people who live in the urban contexts we work within.
  • No demolition: Refuse to engage in briefs where demolition has been pre-ordained by the client. We must be vocal in arguing for an architecture which is not destructive. Do not submit to the colonial, capitalist mindframe of viewing estates as brownfield or ripe for urban redevelopment and ‘improvement’.

 

Followed by our wider vision for the architectural profession:

  • Transparency: don’t disguise schemes as community led when they are developer-driven, be up-front about where the money comes from and who has control, publish company pay data and fee structures. If compromises are to be honestly made then all the information has to be on the table.
  • Long-term thinking: don’t build for future demolition, empty neighbourhoods and systemic pollution. Viability calculations and diagrammatic urban critique (mapping transport connections and ground-floor uses) are meaningless assessments of neighbourhoods that don’t factor in the things that make cities home.
  • A united professional conscience that abides by an ethical charter: as an industry we have more strength to face up to other pressures on development. If we organise we can say no to developers, planners, and profiteers. We need to create workplace safety in order to have a productive dialogue about what we are doing, and for who.
  • Design for people over profit: centre those who are most affected by what we build. Talk to people and give them a platform. Challenge briefs which squeeze out human life in favour of an imagined bottom line.

Mayor’s Guide to Estate Regeneration

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At work we observe firsthand how London’s “housing crisis” has been constructed with policy that insidiously aims to exacerbate land values – ultimately, through the transfer of public housing stock to private developers (including Special Purpose Vehicles set up by councils themselves).

The GLA has created a step-by-step guide for local authorities to undertake quick and easy estate regeneration – as a demonstration of the Mayor’s commitment to “Homes for Londoners” – in the form of the Mayor’s (Draft) Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration. In a similar fashion to the way that residents are consulted on the demolition of their homes, the 40-page document has been available to view and comment on since mid-December.

Despite our views on the the illusion of democracy, it is important that the public make their voices heard. You have until Tuesday, March 14th to send your comments, here. To ease the process, we have gone through the document to make a few points clearer.

Other responses:

For in-depth analysis, please see the comprehensive ASH Good Practice Guide to Resisting Estate Demolition, produced by Architects for Social Housing. Also see this critique.]

Sian Berry: My full response to the draft guidance says it is worse than useless – it rips up the Mayor’s manifesto promise that ‘estate regeneration only takes place where there is resident support’ and does nothing to ensure residents on estates can block demolition of their homes.

The Just Space response is strongly critical but proposes a co-production approach to writing a better version.

Emily Jost on behalf of herself and the tenants and residents of Northwold Estate, Clapton, London E5 on their facebook page. or archived here by Just Space northwold Estate response regen

This collective response (also archived by Just Space) is from a cross section of academics, policy-makers, regeneration specialists, housing activists, community groups, council tenants and leaseholders, social housing providers, and other organizations who have researched and/or worked with council tenants/leaseholders, social/affordable housing, across London, or have experienced first – hand the effects of ‘estate regeneration’

London Tenants Federation LTF response to LMGPG-ER14.03.17 and an article in 24 Housing about their response and their parallel paper for tenants on how it should be done

Another critical breakdown from the 35% Campaign, set up by local campaign group the Elephant Amenity Network in response to Southwark Council’s failure to ensure that housing developments provided a minimum of 35% affordable housing, as required by the local plan.

The residents of Cressingham Gardens feel that the document fell far short from its lofty title.  They submitted strong recommendations to the Mayor.

Demolition watch: As it stands the Draft Guide will allow local authorities, housing associations and their private developer partners to continue demolishing estates, destroying communities and reducing social rented housing. By only offering recommendations without a rigorous set of commitments and conditions, the Guide will not improve the chances of schemes offering the real benefits of good quality, ‘genuinely affordable’ new homes for London.

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